FSBA membership a Bad Return on Investment

FSBA membership dues a poor investment.

I was elected to the School Board on the platform of “Smarter School Spending”. The voters resoundingly embraced this mission when they selected me over my opponent, who was an incumbent and the sitting President of the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA). True to my promise of Smarter School Spending, I’ve instituted personal policies such as not billing for travel, taking online instead of on-location professional development, and sending my district-issued laptop back to be used in the classrooms. These modest measures, putting students first, have saved a little over $4,040 to date. Now I’m proposing that we withdraw our membership from the FSBA for at least one year to retain another $20,000 to directly benefit our students.

Why?

Nonrenewal in the FSBA is in the best interest of our students and taxpayers. Period.

The FSBA simply does not deliver $15,391 (not including professional development and travel costs) of value to the students and taxpayers of Indian River County.

What are we getting for (y)our money? 

First, let’s be honest about who is paying for FSBA membership. It’s the taxpayers of the county and very directly, through opportunity cost, it is the students of the district.

The FSBA claims to deliver (1) advocacy, and (2) professional development to Florida’s district school boards.  I’ve discovered both of these to be unsatisfactory, at best.

Advocacy: The FSBA declares themselves “The Voice of Education,” but a more realistic value proposition would be “The Whispering Whine of Education”. They simply arrive in Tallahassee with their hands out asking for more taxpayer money and bringing complaints about bills being passed for which they offered no (reasonable) input or alternatives. It is no wonder that a past President of the Senate described FSBA advocacy value as being “The most feckless organization in Tallahassee. There is none weaker than the FSBA.” A look at FSBA’s own summary of “legislative wrap-up” from 2014, our last full session, reveals that nearly all of their initiatives were deemed only modestly successful, and it is reasonable to conclude much of those initiatives would have been passed with or without the FSBA.

We are also paying for duplication of effort in that IRC invests $6,700 in lobbying with Treasure Coast Workgroup, plus another $3,000 in the Greater Consortium of School Boards. Both of these groups send board members email updates during the Legislative session (as does FSBA).

As advocates for education, the FSBA simply doesn’t provide a reasonable return on investment. They shape enmity rather than policy.

Professional Development: When I asked for the membership costs of the FSBA, the Assistant Superintendent of Finance said that he believed, very reasonably of course, that these dues included professional development. They do not.

All professional development courses offered by FSBA costs between $155 and $395 in addition to the FSBA membership dues. When we add the cost of mileage and hotels to this it soars above $5,000 per year. They offer one course online for $155. This ethics course satisfies the statutory requirement for annual ethics training, but so does the FREE course offered by the Florida Ethics Commission.

The FSBA’s Professional Development is a relic of the 20th century and is neither cost-effective nor respectful of the time of busy school board members. There are plenty of higher-quality, low cost alternatives to meet the requirements, while allowing us to remain working in the district rather than traveling around the state and staying in fancy hotels.

Even if they are the preferred provider for professional development, board members can still sign up for FSBA courses for a non-member fee, which is no where near the cost of the full membership. Also, this is an odd year when we are not adding any “new” school board members in need of basic training. So for at least this year, we can easily keep those funds working in the district for our students.

Again, the FSBA simply doesn’t provide a good return on investment when it comes to professional development, especially in a non-election year.

Now that we’ve reviewed how little we are getting if we do send FSBA the taxpayer’s hard-earned money, let’s put the opportunity cost into real units of measure.

If we pay the FSBA membership fee of $15,391 this is what we AREN’T getting; This is what FSBA membership is costing our children.

  • 1 Special needs classroom assistant or reading coach to support our most vulnerable students

OR

  • ½-  Special Resource officer to make our schools safer

OR

  • 25 laptops to bring learning into the 21st century and close the gap in our 1:1 initiative

OR

  • 15- $1,000 bonuses to teachers or administrators (many of whom have had their pay frozen for seven years)

In EVERY SINGLE CASE, each of these alternative uses of the $15,391 (or $20,391 with travel and PD) represents a better return-on-investment (ROI) than FSBA membership dues.

 Some may dismiss my suggestion as being politically motivated because my candidacy was supported by those who oppose the tax credit scholarship lawsuit. It’s true that the lawsuit factors into my suggestion, but only insofar as it further demonstrates the FSBA’s ineffective role in advocacy. The lawsuit, which was recently dismissed for lack of merit, proves the FSBA’s lack of political acumen because it offers very little return on investment for its members (even if successful),  and it has alienated the legislative and executive branches of government from the “voice of education”. All this in addition to the great harm to many students and families that could result from the lawsuit,  demonstrating how out-of-touch the FSBA truly is.

 Even if one believes the FSBA is doing a fine job, it is difficult to justify sending local taxpayer money to their gorgeous headquarters in Tallahassee, when our local students, teachers, and administrators have such desperate needs right here, right now. Our kids should come first.

When making an expenditure, I always ask myself one question: “In what way does this add to the delivery of a world class education to our next generation of American leaders?” and simply put, the FSBA membership dues represent a poor return on investment. We should give the students of our district top priority and take at least one year off.

UPDATE September 2015: The SDIRC decided not to renew membership in the FSBA for the 2015-2016 school year, and many believe this was one of the many factors in the FSBA's decision to withdraw from the tax credit scholarship lawsuit